Glucosamine for Dogs: What Does Science Say?
by Tudor Nikolas on Sep 21, 2023.
You would have to be living under a rock if you haven't heard of Glucosamine. Most often used in the context of human supplements, glucosamine for dogs, cats, horses and even other animals are getting more common!
But does it actually work? As a dog behaviourist and nutritionist, I've always believed that we should be able to take our nutrients from nature. However, what's the evidence of glucosamine supplementation and when should we give it to our pets?
What is Glucosamine?
Glucosamine, is actually a a naturally occurring compound. It's a type of amino sugar that plays a crucial role in the formation and repair of cartilage. You can read more about the science behind it if you're interested, but it's essentially a precursor to certain components of joint cartilage.
The layman explanation for it is as follows:
- Glucosamine is a key part of joint cartilage formation
- If you have joint problems, it's mostly because that cartilage has worn off over time
- So therefore taking more glucosamine should help form more joint cartilage and replace what has worn off
However, it's not as straight forward as that. If it was that simple, then osteoarthritis would be solved for the majority of people and animals!
Let's delve right into the science.
What does science say about Glucosamine?
The evidence behind glucosamine efficiency can be conflicting, but in my opinion overall very positive.
2006 study on 35 dogs:
A 2006 randomized double-controlled placebo study (a very reliable method!) on dogs showed the following:
- 35 dogs diagnosed with osteoarthritis were given both glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate.
- After 70 days of regular supplement use, there was a statistically significant improvement in three of five objective measures. These included improvements in objective pain scores, weight-bearing scores and severity of the condition.
- This received a thumbs up as a study that shows glucosamine works in dogs with established osteoarthritis and joint pains.
2003 study on 71 dogs:
This 2003 randomised double controlled place study on 71 dogs showed the following:
71 dogs known to have osteoarthritis were given glucosamine, carprofen or meloxicam. There was also a placebo group.
After 60 days, objective and subjective measures were conducted. There only appeared to be improvements in the joint structure and symptoms with carprofen and meloxicam.
This seems to suggest that glucosamine supplementation in this case did not offer superior benefits.
What I would say to this though is that Meloxicam and Calprofen (Paracetamol + Ibuprofen) are well known medical grade anti inflammatories. Glucosamine on the other hand is a natural dietary supplement.
Based on these two studies, although conflicting, I would still say that there is evidence of benefit from giving glucosamine to dogs.
From my experience working in a veterinary practice, I know that drugs may work or may not work in certain animals. Some may develop side effects, while others won’t. With supplements there’s even more of a grey area. However, unlike medication, supplements are safer and will have fewer side effects.
Whenever I’m not unsure of something, I would still often give it a go. If it works, then great. If not, then at least I’ve tried
What are the potential benefits of Glucosamine for dogs?
We can split the benefits into four different areas:
Joint Health Support
Joint mobility supplements tend to always contain glucosamine, among other substances. Osteoarthritis, very common in older dogs is characterised by breakdown of the cartilage that cushions the joints. Later changes include bone damage, pain and decreased activity.
As glucosamine contributes to the repair and maintenance of this cartilage, taking may be a natural way of managing the symptoms of arthritis. Although as we’ve already seen, the scientific evidence is mixed, this doesn’t mean you should ignore it.
There are other examples where the scientific evidence behind a supplement or drug is missing, but it still works! And you won’t know whether you’re one of the lucky ones until you’ve tried it. If you do decide to try it, we would recommend it in combination with other bioactive substances.
These include collagen, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid and even chondroitin. Make sure they're premium products with no added fillers, bulking agents or unnecessary preservatives.
Enhanced Mobility and Activity Levels
As your dog gets older, their mobility and activity level decreases. This is multifactorial of course, and not just due to osteoarthritis. The effects of “age” start playing up on the holistic body. However, joint function is a crucial part of a dog’s overall well-being.
A dog that moves with ease is likely to be more active and engage in exercise and play. This leads to multiple cascading benefits of exercise such as better cardiovascular health, improved muscle tone, and optimal body weight.
As a dog behaviourist, I know first hand that increased activity correlates with improved mood and reduced symptoms of anxiety, stress or depression in dogs. That is why getting your dog moving and out of the house on walks is vital for them. And it’s vital for us too; us as humans weren’t made to be sedentary!
Pain Relief and Improved Quality of Life
The studies on glucosamine in dogs have shown mixed results in terms of pain relief. There are numerous causes for joint pain though, and osteoarthritis is only one.
Humans with osteoarthritis would be advised to do more exercise or go to a physiotherapist. The role of this is to give specific joint exercises that help strengthen the muscles above and below that joint.
Exercise in dogs will therefore achieve the same result. By strengthening and toning a dog’s muscle above and below a joint, you can improve their osteoarthritis symptoms, including the pain.
Dog owners do tend to report significant behavioural changes in their pets following glucosamine supplementation. This is even more so when taken in a combination form with other useful constituents.
As already mentioned, these may include chondroitin, collagen and hyaluronic acid. Vitamin C also helps with the absorption of collagen so that can be beneficial to add to the mix too.
Accelerated Injury Recovery
Glucosamine can also help in the case of active joint injuries. This applies to both post surgical recovery or sprained ligaments and joints.
As glucosamine is a building block of cartilage, it makes sense that increasing the levels of it in the body should help the joint rebuild faster. This means that your dog can return to normal activity levels faster and be in less pain during their recovery.
How safe is glucosamine?
Glucosamine is a very safe supplement to take. This is why as I mentioned above, it’s probably not a bad idea to at least try it and see if it works for your dog.
Some side effects that I’ve seen reported include mild diarrhoea, vomiting or maybe stomach cramps. However, they tend to be self limiting, temporary and often resolve with decreasing the dose slightly. Some doggies simply have a more sensitive tummy!
The safety profile therefore makes glucosamine suitable for a long term treatment for many dogs. It’s also a safer alternative to giving regular anti-inflammatory medication.
Here is a video from veterinarian Dr. Bob Pane also explaining the benefits of glucosamine in dogs and how to best use it:
In conclusion, glucosamine should in my opinion be one of the top supplements to consider for your canine friend. It is relatively safe and although the evidence is mixed, what have you got to lose?
It's certainly a safer supplement to be taking long term than even a short term use of regular pain relief medication.
If you want to learn more about other superfoods for your dog, check out our latest article on spirulina benefits. This is an incredibly nutritious superfood that may even improve your dog's lifespan.